I had always believed in that old saying ‘if you think education is costly, you don’t know how expensive ignorance is’. I could see a lot of truth in it and a recent incident confirmed it again. The other day our maid-servant came crying and asked me to explain how she had lost Rs.50000 to her moneylender without doing anything wrong. After listening to her story and making some calculation I explained her something on these lines. “You had borrowed Rs.5000 more than two years ago from the lender who told you that the rate of interest was 10%. In the meanwhile, you also started a pool deposit with the same person with a monthly contribution which in two years was supposed to give you a kitty of Rs.50000. On completing the pool term when you go to claim your kitty money, the lender tells you that your claim has been settled with that pending loan of Rs.5000. Is that right? Now, what you don’t understand is how your loan of mere Rs.5000 could gobble up your entire kitty of Rs.50000 in just two years. Stop crying and see that your loan of Rs.5000 has swelled to more than Rs.50000 in 25 months because the rate of interest of 10% was compounded monthly not annually as you thought. In fact, he can ask you to pay a little more.” In between her sob, all she could do was curse her fate.
You can call this exploitation, cheating, dishonesty, but the fact remains that the woman’s own ignorance has proved too expensive. I can sympathise with her because she is illiterate, but, what about those who are reasonably educated yet have learnt little. Last year, my wife needed her US visa renewed, so I called a couple of agents to find out how much they charged for this service. To my surprise, it was upward of Rs.30000 depending upon the brand worth of the agency. I could not imagine paying that kind of money for just getting the form filled and submitted to the embassy. So I decided to sit on my computer and do the job myself. It didn’t take me long to finish the job and get the visa within a short time. I was happy I saved a lot of money, but that did not stop me from wondering at the roaring business that hundreds of these immigration agents are having in almost every town. They are making their millions at the cost of those educated but ignorant young enthusiasts who have stars in their eyes but no skill or talent in their head. Their lack of learning is proving too costly for them.
But isn’t there on the flip side an advantage in it? Not to the ignorant of course, but to others who make business out of it. Didn’t the lender make his money? Aren’t these immigration consultants flourishing because there are so many half-educated people who can’t read the rules themselves and make their case? The happiest of these entrepreneurs are the English language trainers these days who now dot every street corner in every city. They get clients not those just out of schools but also who have professional and postgraduate degrees in their bags. I have always wondered what it was that stopped them from learning this language when they wrote every major exam in that language. Even if you call it a systemic failure, it is easy to see that these individuals are happy partners in it. Again, as I regret their failure to learn not only the language but other subjects too at their schools, I appreciate their contribution to the economy by providing business to thousands of private tutors and online learning platforms. One man’s loss is another man’s gain; in this case probably of the whole society.
Ignorance, incompetence or lack of learning, in fact, is the oil that runs the economic machinery of this country in a very subtle and covert manner. If things ran in a perfect, flawless and most efficient manner, a very large part of the industry would have to pull their shutters down or half of the workforce will have to go jobless.
Take, for instance the case of Electricity supply. Its frequent failure – sudden blow-out, weekly holiday, fluctuating voltage – has spawned a whole wide range of ancillary industries. Starting from candles, oil lamps, torches we moved on to UPS, inverters, batteries, voltage stablisers to domestic diesel engines and industrial grade power generators including solar power plants etc. Imagine the fate of these industries and the hundreds of others that depend on them, if the electricity supply starts running in an efficient manner. Its erratic behavior and unwillingness to improve, for whatever reasons, is a blessing in disguise, provides innumerable opportunities to other businesses.
Similar is the case in nearly every other walk of life, where because either of ignorance on the part of people or incompetence on the part of system, we have created a very large force of middlemen to get things done. If I break this chain and try to get, for instance, my passport or driving license or birth/marriage certificate without the services of a broking agent I will be deemed to have denied employment to my fellow citizens. In many cases, the necessity of middlemen has been so much unofficially institutionalised that if I try to go direct I will be sent on a wild goose chase that will end only when I return shamefacedly to the fold of the brokers lobby. Notwithstanding education, I must act like an ignorant.
The economic encashment of ignorance is so rampant that there seems be some kind of complicity between the state and the institutions of learning. The state does not seem keen on promoting either education or competence. Where is the incentive for people to go for education when, for example, they can drive all over the country without being able to read a word or run business all their life without writing a word beyond their name? On the other hand, if work is streamlined and hardwired, then the system will shrink in numbers and encourage literacy which the state can ill-afford. The state with its ease of doing political business can see the larger good in perpetuating ignorance and failure. In this way, it can allow all forms of primitive and modern ways to continue.
That is why we can see a Volkswagen and an ox-wagon on the same road at the same time. Learning may be a good idea, but its failure is much better business. At least, for some.